Computer numerical control, CNC, machining creates the numerous intricate parts required in dozens of industries. While mass production works for some applications, many industries require custom-created parts for specific uses. The ability to accurately design and create pieces with a computer drives many companies to seek CNC machining for their operations. Everything from the medical field to transportation and more relies on machining parts. Thanks to the advancement of both the computers and the machines, the process allows for more intricate customized designs than other production methods can achieve.
What Industries Use CNC Machinery?
Precision matters most in cases of life and death, such as those encountered by individuals in the medical, defense, petrochemical, aerospace and other industries. Component failure in these sectors could put lives at risk, which explains why businesses in these areas require the highest accuracy in part construction. CNC machining can achieve the necessary level of precision that can save lives when it counts.
Manufacturers in various industries may have their own CNC machines to create the products needed. These machines may use different techniques to work with the materials the sector requires for building its parts. Other businesses may choose professional CNC machining industries to fill their orders.
Though many people associate machining with metal, machinists successfully create parts out of other materials, such as phenolics, plastics, rigid foam and carving foam. These alternative materials increase the versatility of machining to include options that are water-resistant, long-lasting, non-conductive or have other features not found in metals.
Machining uses many different types of devices. Milling, screw machining and machine turning operate in various methods, either turning the tools or the material. Workers choose the best method to use based on the required precision of the product and the content used. The options follow:
- Machine turning: Like a lathe, CNC milling machines turn the material, but a computer controls the entire process. This method makes mass production of customized parts possible.
- Screw machining: Screw machining requires an expert for setup. Despite the extra time needed, this method produces the most precise parts, within 0.005 inches.
- Machine-milling: Machine milling turns the tools around the piece, and the mills can use numerous tools for highly detailed parts.
By using the right machine and material for the job, CNC machinists can serve a wide range of varied industries. Each of these industries has its own needs, which means not all uses of CNC machining will work for every business. Even companies within the same industry may find different applications for CNC machining in their niches.
1. Medical Industry
The medical industry relies on customized products to fit the many needs of its patients. However, many devices used in the medical sector are disposable to protect patients from infectious diseases. Businesses in this sector require precision and high volume to fulfill the needs of their facilities. Occasionally, the companies may require prototypes before requesting full production, especially if they’re testing out new ideas.
The various types of CNC machines adapt well to the needs of the medical field. Due to the variety of materials and devices available, those in the medical field can have a wide range of parts created through CNC machining, including:
- Orthotic devices
- Electronic enclosures for monitoring devices
- Research equipment
- Shielded enclosures
- MRI machines
- Electrical parts
- Customized packaging to maintain sterility
- FDA-approved production
- Pieces made from high-temperature plastics
- Medical instruments
Benefits of CNC machines in the medical field include the rapid creation of customized parts. Those in this industry, however, also require the manufacturing of these parts in an environment approved by the FDA. When crafting individual designs, the computer allows engineers to see the piece in 3D before machining it. This process ensures every component has the exact dimensions required. Parts that will fit together must have the smallest possible margin of error to avoid medical misdiagnoses and part malfunctioning.
2. Aerospace Industry
High speeds, fast air currents and extreme pressures are only three of the conditions devices in the aerospace industry encounter. To avoid damage to the aircraft, engineers must precisely construct every component.. Even a small mistake could catch on an air current, producing drag or increasing wear on the parts.
CNC machining for the aerospace and aviation industries must meet these high precision requirements, which often reach as tight as 0.00004 inches. Machinists must create such tolerances with the extra-durable materials required of the industry, such as titanium, aluminum, nickel, alloys, plastics and more. The materials used will depend on the parts created and the properties desired from that component.
Parts made for the aerospace and aviation industry include several components of aircraft and the devices that service them, including:
- Landing gear parts
- Electrical connectors
- Radiofrequency suppression materials
By embracing CNC machining for creating components, the aerospace industry gets the customized parts it needs with the extremely tight tolerances required. Without the ability to design and create multiple precisely made parts, the air and space industry may not have reached its technological level today. Having an easy means of creating experimental pieces is critical.
CNC machining is an ideal method for manufacturing prototype parts. Having the 3D image in the computer allows the engineer to make quick changes to the design based on testing. Once finalized, the CNC machining process for one or multiple parts can begin. The transition from individual to mass production of parts for the aviation or aerospace industry becomes simple with the use of CNC machines throughout the process.
3. Transportation Industry
Many similar components created for the aviation industry, such as engine parts, may also make their way into items used in the transportation industry. Just as research is vital to the air and space industry, it also plays a role in the transportation sector. Automotive and transport vehicle designers need a way to physically test prototypes to get the information needed on how to change the model. Creating the device with CNC machining and testing it makes it faster to create the prototype required to the exact specifications.
While the air and space industry requires crafts built for speeds faster than sound, the transportation sector requires long-lasting, robust components that can haul cargo across the country. Parts the transportation industry may need CNC machines to construct include those used on its various vehicles, such as:
- Shipping vessels
- Freight trains
- Passenger rail
- 18-wheel transport trucks
- Passenger vehicles
- And others
During use in high-speed trains, the high speeds put extra strain on the vehicles, requiring even better precision in the fitment of the parts used on the train cars and engine.
Because CNC machines can create parts from several types of materials, everything from the brakes to the engine parts and even tools are products these machines can make. Just as passenger automobiles are evolving to become more efficient, cargo vehicles in the transportation industry face similar changes. To achieve the rapid changes needed for a series of tests, engineers can use CNC machined designs to hasten the research and development process and more quickly create the necessary vehicles and parts.
4. Oil and Gas Industry
To create the large machines used in refineries and on drilling rigs, the petrochemical industry needs well-machined parts that fit precisely together. Without a perfect fit, a valve could leak, a piston may not create pressure or a cylinder may not fill. To achieve efficiency in facility productivity, petrochemical companies need CNC machined components.
Drilling rigs are another place where parts must have a high tolerance. Unlike other facilities, drilling rigs are in isolated areas. If a component fails to work as it should, getting a replacement or repair could take days away from production. Parts produced for use on rigs must work competently the first time and keep operating, even in the presence of salt spray from the sea, dust from the desert or snow from the northern plains.
Components used in the oil and gas industry that CNC machining can produce include parts for pipelines, refineries and rigs, including:
- Drill bits
The speed the oil and gas industry moves at requires fast turnarounds and occasional high-volume processing of parts. CNC machine industry benefits for this sector include the ability to create specialty products for jobsites. Additionally, CNC operations can produce large or small pieces for the industry as well as the components needed for the electronic gear this sector increasingly uses.
5. Military and Defense Industry
Similar to the petrochemical industry, the defense sector uses parts that need to be rugged enough for even the harshest environments. The military has strict regulations set forth by the government. Just as medical supplies must have their production fulfill rules created by the FDA, military products need to adhere to government regulations.
The military encompasses so many sectors that products and parts created for defense may resemble those made for other industries, such as aviation, transportation, electronics, marine, medical and others. These industries, however, don’t have the needs of the defense sector in keeping up with the latest technology while having parts that are reliable in the most out-of-reach locations, such as:
- Communications components
- Transportation components
- Plane parts
Due to the nature of security, the exact products and procedures used for creating military equipment require secrecy. However, this sector can gain benefits from using CNC machining such as quick upgrades, long-lasting parts, creation of parts from robust materials and mass output of approved parts that require tight tolerances. The military is among the industries with CNC machinery that may require regular upgrades of the devices, allowing this sector to keep up with the need to have the latest technology to supply the best homeland protection.
6. Electronics Industry
While machining can create large parts, it also excels as an option for designing small components, such as those the electronics industry uses. With such small portions, some elements will require laser precision to achieve the fine accuracy — up to 10 micrometers — required.
In addition to electronics and insulators commonly found in electrical devices, this industry may also need communications components. These parts can protect communications devices from electronic interference or create electrical connections between elements like:
- Heat sinks
- Amplifier housings
- Radio frequency interference shielding
- Electrical insulation
The smaller the parts, the tighter the tolerances. When it comes to electronics and electrical components, there is little room for error in the micromachining process. Turning over the task of cutting and controlling the tools to a computer increases the possible accuracy to levels humans would be incapable of achieving. The electronics industry greatly benefits from the superior accuracy produced by CNC machining for components, housings and other parts.
7. Marine Industry
The marine industry stays afloat thanks to the many components created with CNC machining that the sector uses. With so many elements on watercraft that require unusual materials, machining is a way to create those parts with little effort.
Unlike other sectors, the marine industry needs most things it uses to have water resistance because most components will have exposure either directly to water or to the humid environment around lakes, rivers and oceans, which can wear out parts. Because most electronics don’t operate well in the presence of moisture, electrical devices will need special consideration. Electronics aboard ships need housing to keep damaging water out of them. Additionally, sea-going vessels must have resistance to the corrosive effects of saltwater.
The marine industry also needs complete portability of everything onboard ships. Components used in devices need to last and resist wear because repairs may not happen until the vessel reaches land again. Other parts must have perfect fits to keep them working without fail. For the marine industry, CNC machining serves as a way to produce many parts on boats, especially those components that need to fit perfectly with others, like:
- Insulating cases
- Engine components
- Electronic parts
- Prototype molds
- Boat parts
CNC benefits the marine industry through its ability to make custom parts. Whether large shipping vessels or personal boats, parts aboard may need changing to create a ship that fits the user’s needs. With CNC machining’s versatility, engineers can make both large and small pieces, depending on the available machinery. Marine foams have a range of types, including rigid polyurethane and thermoplastic polyurethane, that engineers can use to create water-resistant, lightweight and durable parts for boats.
Learn More About CNC Machining for Your Industry
CNC machining remains a useful means of production for a variety of industries. The ability to create parts out of multiple types of materials beyond metal and wood makes CNC processes a preferred option for those sectors that require customized components. Everything from insulating cases to medical devices and more are among the products machinists can produce to the customer’s specifications.
While many businesses may need small orders of prototypes for testing, eventually, they’ll likely need to increase their needs to more significant production numbers. When volume matters, choose a company with the capability for large-order machining. At American Micro Industries, we are such a company. Our more than two decades of experience in this field have given us the chance to learn and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the industries we serve. For more information about us or to request a quote, contact us online.